Saturday, September 6, 2014

Training in Action: Baby Step Number 2, 3, 4...11!

Photo Credit to Catie from Flickr.


Remember how big and scary our list of approximations looked when we first started training? In order to train my gecko, Absinthe, to perch on my hand I wrote out a list of 13 step by step instructions  on how to get to my goal. The beauty of approximations (baby steps) is that, as long as you write them down, you know exactly where you are and how you want to get to where you're going. Often each and every step doesn't happen and the animal will make leaps and bounds, skipping steps as they go. Out of the 13 original steps 8 have been skipped! See today's video to see where he's at!

Approximation 1 - Take cricket from tweezers (or fingers!) in front of face.

Approximation 1 in action.

Approximation 2 - take one step to tweezers until each leg/arm(?) moved one time each

Approximation 3 - Follow tweezers one length of cage.
Approximation 4 - Follow tweezers two lengths of cage.
Approximation 5 - Follow tweezers regardless where on cage.

These steps were unnecessary as Absinthe learned to hang out at the front of his enclosure for training.

Approximation 6 - Follow tweezers on perch.

Approximation 7 - Jump onto perch/hand to follow tweezers.
Approximation 8 - Stay on perch/hand for 5 sec
Approximation 9 - 10 sec
Approximation 10 - 15 sec
Approximation 11 - 20 sec


Appoximation 7 and on!

I greatly overestimated a gecko's jumping ability. They do not seem to do it very often and when he does jump it is very short and not graceful. I successfully lured only one of his feet onto my hand and he didn't seem to enjoy the experience too much as he kept his little sticky foot pads (anyone have an accurate anatomical term?) curled up and away from my skin. I quickly changed his perch from a hand to a clean, plastic soap holder which he seemed to prefer. After luring all of him (all four of his legs) onto the perch he proceeded to stay for a full minute before showing body language to go back to his habitat's glass.

Approximation 12 - until five minutes.
Approximation 13 - Stay on perch while it moves.

Approximations 12 & 13 should be easy for Absinthe to generalize because staying still is something that reptiles are really good at doing, Learning to stay put is pretty simple, just reinforce for staying still! See you at the next update!


Copyright 2014 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Food Management for Geckos

Photo credit - L. Brand from Flickr
The first week I had Absinthe, my Madagascar Giant Day Gecko, I started to train her to take squirmy crickets dusted in vitamins from my fingertips. She was voracious and ate every one I offered. But that's changed now.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Training in Action: Baby Steps!


My goal is to have a tame Day Gecko that will sit in my hand while I feed him, and maybe while carrying him in the palm of my hand. This will be a challenge for most people because you cannot grab a day gecko without risking serious injury to the animal because their skin falls off if grabbed! It is because of this characteristic that many people claim Giant Day Geckos are untrainable and are a strictly hands off reptile. These people say this because they rely primarily on training involving Negative Reinforcement (R-) which involves grabbing animals. Fortunately training with exclusively Positive Reinforcement (R+) relies on 100% willing participation on the animal's part, and if the animal doesn't want to train they can walk away and the session stops. My training plan with R+ includes a long list of approximations (baby steps). See the videos to see where we are at with training!

Training doesn't always go as planned.


Approximation 1 - Take cricket from tweezers (or fingers!) in front of face.

Approximation 1 in action.

Approximation 2 - take one step to tweezers until each leg/arm(?) moved one time each

Approximation 3 - Follow tweezers one length of cage.

Approximation 4 - Follow tweezers two lengths of cage.

Approximation 5 - Follow tweezers regardless where on cage.

Approximation 6 - Follow tweezers on perch.

Approximation 7 - Jump onto perch/hand to follow tweezers.

Approximation 8 - Stay on perch/hand for 5 sec

Approximation 9 - 10 sec

Approximation 10 - 15 sec

Approximation 11 - 20 sec

Approximation 12 - until five minutes.

Approximation 13 - Stay on perch while it moves.

Gecko is now trained to be held!

Copyright 2014 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Saturday, August 16, 2014

He Has a Name!

Giant Day Gecko licking juice off a finger. Photo taken by ColourCodeMe at Flikr.
And his name is Absinthe! Don't know what that is? It's a green herbal liquor that was often used by hippies with a "bohemian lifestyle" in the 1900's and was thought to cause hallucinations and bad behavior. But I just like to think of my Gecko wearing dreads sitting with an ice cold beverage.


Copyright 2014 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Training is Universal Language

This is the happiest Gecko I have ever seen, look at that smile! I recently purchased a Madagascar Giant Day Gecko (today actually) and man is this guy HUGE! He's only 1 year 8 months old and he's already 8 or so inches long. I'm so very excited about this new addition because I'm hoping to accomplish something no one has ever done before.

Photo Credit: Bernard Spragg at Flickr
I am hoping to train my new gecko to learn how to station on my hand, a color, or another object. Teaching an animal to station is a fancy way of saying "stay in one spot" and is used as a great husbandry behavior in zoos worldwide.

I have never trained a reptile using Positive Reinforcement and it doesn't seem to be common practice in reptile circles. Two people I know even mentioned that it is impossible to train geckos because of their nature (speed, jitteryness, "small brain") and ability of their skin to fall off if grabbed, leading to possible infection. Yet I bet that if a gecko's skin did not slough off when grabbed or harassed these same people would readily train these lizards.

Photo Credit: Bernard Spragg at Flickr
The beauty here is that where one contingency fails (Negative Reinforcement resulting in skin loss) another can take place and begin to work (Positive Reinforcement). I have already seen and heard that geckos can learn to associate a hand with food and this is all you need to train.

To get a sneak peek about how I plan to train my Madagascar Giant Day Gecko learn about Approximations on my most recent blog post.

Copyright 2014 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Friday, August 8, 2014

Training is Like Eating Steak

How do you eat steak? Most people cut it into small pieces with a fork and knife and eat it one small part at a time.

Photo credit to ecpica via flickr.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

How to Pet a Bird (or any animal!)

How do you pet a bird? The answer is that you ask them!




The most amazing thing about living with a bird is learning how to communicate with them. Sure a lot people can pet their birds but most of them can't tell if their pet truly likes being pet or are just "putting up" with the human they got stuck with. People will immediately start stroking and ruffling head feathers without even seeing if the bird wants to be touched, how rude!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Results for Florida Parrot Rescue and the 24 hr Giving Challenge!

The results are in for The Giving Challenge with donations for Florida Parrot Rescue (FPR) totaling nearly $7,000 ($6,591 to be exact) from 69 independent donors! 

This is good news because as the organization grows so do the expenses! Take a look at the difference from 2010 to 2012! FPR's entire expenditure profile can be seen here.



My current foster bird, a Moluccan Cockatoo named Jojo, also fared well with his entry by reaching over 2,000 people and generating 12 responses on FaceBook. Watch out these photos are cute!




Monday, April 28, 2014

The 24 hr Giving Challenge - Jojo's entry

I was asked by my foster coordinators at Florida Parrot Rescue to write a piece on the bird I am currently fostering, Jojo. This piece will be entered into an online event for nonprofits to compete for large sums of cash donations. And after inheriting a large vet bill after a recent animal hoarding case Florida Parrot Rescue needs all the help they can get. The following is my help with their entry.




Jojo is a over 30 year old Moluccan Cockatoo, exact age unknown like much of his history. He doesn't act like other cockatoos which means he was likely caught in the wild. Jojo came to me as a bird needing help. He would run away or attack a hand or perch that came near him, did not care for human interactions, was deemed to like only one type of gender, and didn't seek out human touch.



I started target training Jojo after we built up a significant amount of trust. Here we are working on no-contact step up training. I was very wary of Jojo because of his distrust in humans as you can see in how far I kept my distance from him while he perched on his cage in the photo below.



Jojo has since graduated into a very loving bird. In three months he learned to enjoy what humans have to offer: love, security, play, and cuddles! Jojo steps up, seeks out human touch, does tricks, and a variety of helpful husbandry behaviors such as taking liquids from a syringe. As you can see he is now on my hand and in close contact with me, his foster mommy! What a success!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Quebec Bans Prong and Shock Collars

Certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA) Nancy Tucker reports on Quebec's latest law promoting a higher standard of ethics in the dog training community; the banning of prong and shock collars.

While this is a progressive law for Canada I do not see a strong and concentrated movement of animal behaviour professionals pushing for similar laws in the U.S., which is unfortunate.

Copyright The Sequential Psittacine Blog 2014 Caitlin Bird

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Do you know how to hold a bird?

So it has come to my attention that not everyone knows how to hold a bird. Birds end up feeling trapped exhibiting nervous behaviors when vision is blocked in an open area. To encourage birds to relax raise them up high to your eye level and give them a chance to escape into a world where they can see more around them.


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